XFL delivers electrifying, fast-paced inaugural game in D.C.

Chris Lingebach
February 09, 2020 - 5:02 pm

The DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons put on an electric, worthwhile performance as the nation watched the first game of the XFL's inaugural season on Saturday.

Whatever secret sauce the NFL has that other upstart leagues have woefully fallen short of duplicating, the XFL proved it might just have the recipe.

One of the more noticeable differences between the league's NFL counterpart was evident on every single play. Rather than 40 seconds between each play, the XFL offers players an expedited 25-second play clock to get their affairs in order. Also halftime is a breeze, with just 10 minutes between each half of play – and that's a hard 10.

"Everybody's seen that statistic that in a three-and-a-half-hour game, there's only like 18 minutes of actual action and there's a lot of people standing around and pictures of coaches calling plays," XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck told 106.7 The Fan. "You can't eliminate all of that, of course, but we thought, hey, a 25-second clock is reasonable."

"There's no reason that players shouldn't be in great shape and be able to go on a 12- or 13-play drive," he said. "So we've tried to kind of get rid of the dead time, the idle time. Not completely successful, but so far this looks pretty good."

Many onlookers in attendance at Audi Field remarked of the product itself, as the quality of play far surpassed their expectations. No, these aren't NFL players. But as Defenders safety Rahim Moore noted after the game, every round of the NFL Draft – one through seven – was represented on the field.

And there it is, the humanity that's hard to ignore in the XFL, which represents an opportunity for so many players to showcase themselves again for the NFL.

"Definitely a second chance for your career," said Moore, a former second-round pick who played five NFL seasons between the Broncos and Texans. Moore, 29, had a great first game in DC, registering two solo tackles and hauling in an interception.

"I mean, ball is ball," he said. "We have an NFL coaching staff. We've got a lot of NFL players. They said we have every round from first to seventh, so that's the difference in this league. A lot of guys are hungry."

"He definitely doesn't deserve to be here – he should be in the NFL," Moore said, looking to teammate Eli Rogers, who played wide receiver for the Steelers for four seasons (2015-18. "A lot of guys I felt like on our team should be in the NFL, but this is where we are now and we've got to take care of business here. I mean, I love it. I have no complaints."

Making it to game day was particularly harrowing for Rogers, whose mother died earlier in the week. The XFL and the camaraderie of his teammates couldn't have come at a more important time.

"It's been pretty emotional for me," Rogers said. "One practice I couldn't even go out. I kind of came down and I shed a few tears. But I thank my teammates, my coaches for being there with me and having my back, telling me everything's gonna be alright, take your time."

"He went through a lot this week and I pray for him that the Lord help him overcome the death of his mother," Moore said. "My mother's living, so I don't understand how that could feel. But for this guy to go out and play, he never showed no bad emotion to the team. He went out there and played hard. I'm happy for this dude. I prayed to God that he had a good game, and that he did, it's taken a lot for this dude to come do that, because mothers are essential to all of us."

Rogers finished with six catches for 73 yards.

If you came to the game expecting to see sloppy play, it didn't exist. 'This is legitimate football' became a common refrain up in the press box.

"Oh man, this is awesome," one Defenders fan told 106.7 The Fan at halftime. "It's everything you could want!"

Former Troy standout Brandon Silvers quarterbacked a Dragons offense that generated a total of 310 yards, finishing with 217 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Defenders quarterback Cardale Jones, who won a national championship at Ohio State in 2015, was efficient under center, completing 62 percent of his 26 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

There was some early concern for a low-scoring game, that the Defenders and Dragons wouldn't come close to the 51.5 total set by Vegas, a number which can be conveniently found alongside the game score on the ESPN broadcast. After combining for just 15 points late in the second quarter, both offenses rallied for a 10-point surge in the final 26 seconds of the half.

Defenders kicker Ty Rausa, who had missed a 35-yard attempt earlier in the quarter, nailed a kick from 54 yards to close out the half with DC trailing 13-12. The Defenders went on to win 31-19, with both teams totaling 50 points in the game.

Another XFL innovation that was hard to miss, even from inside the stadium, was the abundance of media presence on the field. Making the players more accessible to the viewing audience at home is a core benchmark of the league. You score a touchdown, talk to ESPN's sideline reporter. You throw an interception, talk to the sideline reporter.

Good or bad, players responsible for game-changing plays were immediately commissioned to explain what happened.

"It's definitely different," said Seattle receiver Austin Proehl, a former seventh-round pick by the Bills out of North Carolina.

"I think after you score a touchdown or make a big play, or whatever it may be, I think it's fun to kind of go over there and celebrate with your teammates," he said. "You're not really expecting to have cameras. That's definitely a new thing, but I think it's a good addition to this league. I think it makes it fun."

"You got it off a touchdown. I got if off the pick-six," Silvers lamented.

A few DC fans couldn't help but make their presence at the game be known as a referendum on their treatment as Redskins fans, hanging a banner that read "HTTD" alongside "Sell The Team Dan," a popular slogan many disenfranchised Redskins fans use on social media which takes aim at Redskins owner Dan Snyder. The former is a play on 'Hail To The Redskins.'

Not without its kinks to work though, some players were confused by some of the XFL's more unique rules.

When asked if the experience matched his expectations, Jones told reporters, "I didn't have real expectations going into the game as far as what the experience was gonna be like, but if I did, the experience today, definitely the fans and their support, it would have blew me away. I did not expect 17,000-plus fans to show up and stay loud and cheer and be active the whole game like the way they were."

"I definitely did not expect some of the situations that came up," he said. "I had no clue if you – I think it was a kickoff – and it didn't go a certain distance, it comes to the other 45. So things like that, I'm like, 'What is going on?' I definitely was surrpised by a few things, but we've got next week to look forward to."

From start to finish, those 17,000-plus fans breathed life into Audi Field, cheering passionately as if they'd been waiting years for the moment.

In the end, the history books will show the Defenders as the victors in the inaugural game of this new iteration of the XFL.

"There was just so many unknowns, so many unknowns," Defenders coach Pep Hamilton said when asked to reflect on the first-time experience. "I had a good idea of what type of quarterback we had. Just of all our guys, there's more evidence of how well Cardale can play in big games, in pressure-packed situations, under circumstances such as what we had today."

"But there were so many unknowns," he said. "Not just this morning, but from the time we had our draft and put this team together, and of course, going into this game."

There's one less unknown for fans who attended their first Defenders game. They now know the game day experience promises legitimate football played on a pristine field, and an exciting, fast-paced brand of football that, for a welcomed change, will send them home happy.

"I want to thank Vince McMahon for the opportunity," Rogers said.

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